Huskies back home; no ‘mustache guy’


UConn guard Shabazz Napier talks to reporters after practice Monday. (Neill Ostrout photo)

NOW THAT THEY’VE won Germany, the UConn basketball team is back in Yankee country ready to take on an old Yankee Conference foe.

The Huskies meet Vermont here at Gampel Pavilion Tuesday night. Here are a couple notes and quotes following their workout Monday afternoon:

— THE HUSKIES, thanks to their 66-62 win over Michigan State, entered the Associated Press rankings at No. 23 Monday. They’re just outside of the top 25 of the ESPN/USA Today coaches poll (No. 26….top ARV).

Most of the Huskies weren’t very excited, or even aware, of the ranking.

“I guess it’s cool,” Shabazz Napier said. “I didn’t even know we were ranked until a few minutes ago.”

Napier said such a ranking might have excited him when he was a freshman. Now that he’s an “old man” and a junior, it’s no big deal.

“Whatever they want to do, they can do it. Whatever position we’re going to be in, that’s the position,” coach Kevin Ollie said of the poll. “We can’t control that. … I didn’t even know that (UConn was ranked). It really don’t matter to me.”

— NAPIER, AS HE usually is, was the most interesting Husky to talk to. On getting back to a “regular” game of sorts?

“There’s going to be a bunch of fans here now,” Napier said. “We didn’t have too many fans in those first two games.”

Yes, the crowds in Hartford and Storrs for UConn’s exhibitions were tiny. And yes, Gampel Pavilion should be close to full Tuesday.

Although, UConn officials said Monday afternoon there were still “plenty” of tickets available for the Vermont game.

It would have been interesting to see how full the building would have been had UConn not been so impressive on Friday, however.

— VERMONT WON THE America East Conference tourney last season and made its fifth trip to the NCAA Tournament. The Catamounts are the favorites to win the league again this year.

Though not nearly as notable as UConn’s victory, Vermont opened its season with a fairly impressive win at Sienna. The Catamounts rallied from a 16-points deficit and won on a Sandro Caririssmo layup with eight seconds to play.

— ONE OF VERMONT’s key players is from UConn country. Ethan O’Day, a 6-foot-9 freshman, went to E.O. Smith High School in Storrs. He then spent a year at Northfield (Mass.) Mount Hermon.

“I know him really well. He lives right around the corner from me and we used to hang out all the time,” said his fellow E.O. Smith alum, UConn’s Tyler Olander. “It’s going to be fun to play against him.”

Former Vermont standout Evan Fjeld.

— THE LAST MEETING between these teams came two years ago when Kemba Walker and company won 89-73 in November 2010. Walker scored a career-best 42 points that night, tying the XL Center record for most points scored by a UConn player and the most anywhere by a Husky under Jim Calhoun.

The biggest disappointment for some of the Huskies and their fans is that Evan Fjeld is no longer with the Catamounts. The talented forward (he had 26 points as I recall against UConn in that 2010 game) wasn’t exactly best known for his game.

“They still got the guy with the mustache?” Shabazz Napier asked reporters.

Yes, Fjeld’s mustaches was impressive. And, apparently, memorable.

— THE BEST SIGN from Germany for Ollie? He says it came late in the game when Michigan State briefly pulled ahead.

“When Keith Appling made that and-one and they went up by one, I looked up at the tape and the first thing I saw was Shabazz bring everybody in together,” Ollie said. “That’s what I want my leaders to do. Not hang your head, not be down. I knew we were going to be fine when I saw that. He brought everybody in on the free throw line, got our composure, got our poise.”

Appling’s hoop and harm put the Spartans up 58-56 with 5:43 to play. But Napier hit a three at the other end to make it 59-58 with 5:14 left and UConn never trailed again.

RYAN BOATRIGHT SAYS his ankle injury isn’t an issue anymore.

“I’ll be all right. I’ve been rolling my ankles my whole life,” Boatright said. “It’s nothing new.”

After he rolled his ankle in the Michigan State game, it looked like he might be out of action for the evening. But Boatright more than gutted it out.

“It was hard but I knew I had to get back out there. I wanted to get back out there and keep fighting with my team. I didn’t want to let them down,” Boatright said. “I knew if I could get up and walk on it, I could play.”

— IF THERE IS one area UConn continues to be concerned about it’s rebounding. Michigan State won that battle 43-29.

“Rebounding, I want that to get better,” Ollie said. “Twenty offensive rebounds, that’s too many. And getting out-rebounded by 13 or 14 on the boards, that can’t happen.”

— AFTER TWO IMPRESSIVE showings in UConn’s exhibitions, freshman guard Omar Calhoun struggled a bit against Michigan State. He scored just one point against the Spartans but it wasn’t his offensive production that concerned Ollie.

“He just didn’t get into the flow. And we discussed that,” Ollie said. “One thing I didn’t see from him, I didn’t see the intensity on defense. I want him to get better on that end. Because he’s going to be a great defender for us. Everybody talks about his scoring ability, this and that, but that guy’s going to be a tremendous defender.”

Ollie expects a bounce back game soon from Calhoun.

“It’s not about scoring. He can have one point again but I want him to box out, I want him to do the right things,” Ollie said.



About Neill

Neill Ostrout covers the UConn men's basketball team for the Journal Inquirer in Manchester. He has been a member of the "Horde" for more than 16 years.
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